The Harry Potter franchise has reached this sacred cow status that has people really, really invested in them. And there’s nothing wrong with that, except when fans tend to overreact to even the mildest of criticisms towards it and the direction it’s heading in. Thankfully, though, JK Rowling herself has subsided this animosity, by being kind of shit these last couple of years. I won’t go into too much detail, as this really isn’t a conversation about how she sucks now, but one of the ways this has been reflected is in her writing for the Fantastic Beasts movies.
And I didn’t hate Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. I just felt it was really convoluted for a really simple plot, and was a bit too focused on really needless world building and not on the cast. And they did have a really likeable cast in the four leads, I actually was invested in them. All they had to do was focus on the most promising elements, and not do what the Pirates franchise did and double down on their worst aspects because it’s easier to write and to create some faux-investment in your audience that will accumulate the money. But I guess I should have guessed which strategy they’d go with after involving Johnny Depp, shouldn’t I?
There’s no reason to analyse Crimes of Grindelwald. It’s a fucking trainwreck. 2/10. But what I can do is spare you the pain of having to watch it and just recap the thing, because it apparently wants to keep its spoilers a jealously guarded secret. But fuck that, as nothing in this movie is worth keeping quiet about. With that said:
SPOILERS FROM THIS POINT ON YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!!!!!!
Let’s Recap Shit You Need to Know from the First Movie!
Newt Scamander was stopping in New York on his way across America to smuggle a magical creature back into the wild under the guise of writing a nature book for magical creatures. Whilst here, he meets a muggle (or….ugh, ‘nomag’) Jacob Kowlaski, an Auror named Tina Goldstein and her sister Queenie. After trying to get his escaped creatures scattered all over New York back, they run into an Obscurial named Credence. He is also being pursued by the dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald in disguise. Credence is cornered and eventually destroyed, but a wisp of his Obscurial form remains. After the destruction reveals magic to New York, Newt uses the magical creature he was smuggling to wipe out their memories. This includes Kowalski, who had fallen in love with Queenie and vice versa. He gets his memory wiped and Newt returns to England. Also, he has a photo of some girl called Leta Lestrange who definitely won’t be important. Movie ends with Queenie meeting Kowalski again, and it’s implied he remembers some stuff subconsciously.
Got it? Good, cause I haven’t seen the film since it was in cinemas and I’m going mostly from memory. Moving on!
The Credence Hunt
We spent the last half of the first movie hunting Credence, I guess they thought it was a good idea to do it again so here we go. He has his full body again somehow. I guess it’s like that thing in X-Men: The Last Stand where we do technically see how he survives and get literally no other details. Even when Newt asks about this, the Aurors just shrug it off because who gives a shit about explaining your bullshit magic anymore? Anyway, everyone’s after Credence here, and it makes up the bulk of everybody’s story sans Queenie so we’ll start here. He ran away to Paris in the year since the first movie took place, so that’s where everybody reconvenes.
Grindelwald breaks out in the silliest, most confusing fucking way possible and kills a lizard. Like, it’s all loyal to him, and he flings it off a moving magic carriage for no reason. Do we really need more signals that he’s evil-he’s played by Johnny Depp! The reverse thing with his henchman was…confusing, and all seemed to be to get the pendant, but yeah that’s our big opening set piece. A badly lit, underwhelming and silly chase sequence where nobody seems invested at all. Which, while I’m here, I need to highlight Depp’s commitment to this performance. ‘Not invested’ would be a fucking understatement.
Let’s swing on over to Newt!
Newt is Kind of an Asshole, But Let’s Ignore This
After the events of the first movie, where Newt saved the Wizarding World from exposure, he’s banned from leaving England. Cool. Anyway, his brother Theseus pulls some strings to get him a meeting with the Ministry of Magic to do something about it. He runs into Leta, who is engaged to Theseus but still clearly harbours a flame for Newt. This engagement is for cheap drama later on and her and Theseus have zero chemistry together.
Newt meets with the Ministry people, who will remove his travel ban if he agrees to become an Auror, and help them hunt down and kill Credence. Because Aurors are mean stupid stupid heads according to Newt, and he doesn’t want to murder a teenager, he refuses. The task gets passed on to some other asshole Newt has an adverse reaction to, and you’d be fooled to think is way more important in the story given how he’s set up here, and you’d be wrong!
Newt’s relationship with his brother is…really weirdly framed. Newt despises him, and it’s made out because he’s an Auror, but Theseus is nothing but considerate and helpful to his brother. We even see Newt show glee at Theseus getting hurt later on, and it’s such a weird moment because we don’t get any real context as to why their relationship is so sour. Theseus seems just nice, I dunno. It really makes Newt look like a total prick.
He meets up with Dumbledore, and we find out he was the one who sent Newt to America. Kind of a pointless retcon, but whatever. As they apparate around London and create fog to avoid Ministry spying, Dumbledore recruits Newt to go to Paris to find Credence before Grindelwald does. Dumbledore cryptically says he can’t, his reasoning seems a lot more interesting than it is. Newt agrees to the mission, Dumbledore sets up a safehouse for him.
Newt runs into Queenie and Kowalski. I’ll go into what happens with their characters and how he got his memories back in their own section, but for now know that Kowalski is travelling to Paris with Newt. They meet up with some dodgy guy, get a Portkey to Paris, and this is the last time Newt’s travel ban is ever brought up. Seriously, it’s as pointless as it was giving Newt the ban in the first place.
Let me mention briefly Newt’s…arc? I think? He tells his brother during the meeting with the Ministry that he will not take sides in the conflict with Grindelwald. He only goes to Paris as a favour to Dumbledore and to track down Tina. But they build this up with one line and that’s it? It never really comes into play in the rest of the film until the very end, not helped by the fact that Newt and Grindelwald don’t even meet until then. It’s such sloppy storytelling.
As for sloppy storytelling, Newt has an assistant now! She has the hots for him, and I missed her one and only scene in the entire movie as I had to go to the bathroom. To call her a character would be a disservice to the art of character building.
Okay, let’s look into:
Oh Yeah, Tina’s Here Too I Guess
Tina, unlike Newt, took on her role of tracking down Credence, except she’s morally dubious about killing him. That’s her thing that never comes up in any significant way. What will come up later is that she read about Theseus and Leta’s engagement in a paper, which had misprinted it as Newt. Thinking they had reconciled and gotten engaged, Tina is pissed at Newt. It’s about as pointless and arbitrary a drama as you can imagine it is! Neither of them tried to explain this in letter?
She finds him at a freak show, and witnesses him escaping. She also finds someone else eyeing him up, and confronts this man. His name is Yusuf, he’s also after Credence but also doesn’t want to kill him. But then PSYCHE! Guess again, bucko?! He actually does want to kill the kid and kidnaps Tina. And that’s where we leave her for a bit!
That was Short. What’s Credence Doing?
Credence is in Paris looking for his birth mother; the woman whose name is on his adoption papers resides there. He’s laying low with said freak show whilst romantically involved with…Nagini. Yes, JKR’s much maligned ‘Twenty Year Plan ™’ to reveal Voldermort’s pet snake was actually a cursed witch who eventually just transformed into one permanently. And this completely unnecessary and awkward retcon…goes nowhere. At least not in this movie. You can cut Nagini out and lose absolutely nothing. Brah. Fucking. Vah. JK. (also why is a woman who can involuntarily turn into a snake such an attraction for a WIZARDS’ freak show what the fuck)
They stage that escape plan so they can continue in the ‘Find Mommy’ quest. They manage to track down the housekeeper, a half-elf, who put Creednce up for adoption. When they meet her, they find out that this isn’t her mother, she merely served her household, the Lestranges. It’s believed that Credence is the son of Corvus Lestrange IV, which would make him Leta’s brother. After this moment, the house is attacked by the Auror we saw at Newt’s meeting that’s apparently important. He kills the half-elf, and Credence goes all Obscurian in anger. This is when we find out about this Auror is in Grindelwald’s service and this is all part of his plan to manipulate Credence to his side. I’m not sure if we ever see this Auror again. And I refuse to learn his name. He’s not worth that google search.
I should talk about Grindelwald’s, uh, “plan”, actually:
The Real Crimes of Grindelwald were Wasting my Time
Yeah, the crimes of Grindelwald in this film don’t add up to much, honestly. His plan is to essentially hide in the shadows and have Credence voluntarily come to him by choice. I don’t know if that’s a magic thing, or he just knows he can’t force him to do anything, I don’t really care. He wants the kid because he’s apparently their best bet at killing Dumbledore. Sure thing, bucko.
Anyway, he murders a family, and there’s this really awkward beat where he pauses in front of a toddler, then orders his death too. Then he hypocritically talks about how he doesn’t hate muggles, just views them as inferior to wizards. And I get that his hypocrisy is meant to be highlighted, but he’s so cartoonishly evil that whatever attempts to make him charming or manipulative just fall flat cause he’s kind of crap.
Anyway, he does fuck all until the end. Except an interesting exchange, so let’s swing over to:
Holy Shit, Did JK Rowling Go Out of her Way to Ruin Queenie
We first meet Kowalski and Queenie at Newt’s house. He quickly deducts that Kowalski has been put under some form of enchantment in order for him to agree to marry Queenie. Keep in mind he’s in love with her and WANTS to marry her, but he’s afraid of her facing legal troubles as this kind of marriage is illegal. This is played for laughs, but this is clearly a coercion of an intimate partner to another, and is seriously squicky and wrong. The movie just does not seem aware of this and it’s fucking weird.
Oh, in case you’re wondering how Kowalski got his memories back, apparently the creature wiping their memories only got rid of the SAD ones. As most of Kowalski’s were happy, Queenie just had to fill in the blanks. This is stupid beyond measure and not what was clearly established in the first movie, but this is what happens when you write definitive arcs for your characters that end and bring them back for the sequel. It’s even worse here because this series was planned to be a multi-part one, which means JK either never realised how popular Kowalski would become and didn’t even bother opening up that avenue for possibilities, or wrote herself into a corner and decided to stupid herself out. Your guess is as good as mine. Also, nobody who didn’t know about magic before that wasn’t happy about its existence?!
Newt removes the enchantment and Kowalski is, rightfully, pissed at Queenie and storms off. Queenie catches up with him and they have an exchange. Somehow, HE upsets HER and she fucks off to meet her sister in Paris, and the movie seems to take her side! What?! I’m sorry, what?! She is so in the wrong here it beggars belief! He called her crazy sure, a bit far, but he was kind of in his right to be upset. She controlled his actions with magic! I don’t get this!
Anyway, this is why Kowalski comes with Newt, to follow Queenie. In Paris, she’s going up to the French Ministry asking about her sister when she attracts the attention of Grindelwald’s minions. Once outside, she hears Newt and Kowalski (they’re doing something I’ll explain once I jump back to them), and follows the sounds until she’s confronted by said minions and gets knocked out.
When she comes to, she’s approached by Grindelwald in their safe house. She gets defensive, but he starts nattering about how unfair everything is for wizards, and she…starts listening. He also says he doesn’t care who they marry. Which is a lie for somebody who clearly does not give a fuck about non-magical beings, and Queenie can read minds, but whatever. The needs of the plot must. He agrees to let Queenie go, and she leaves.
(I imagine Rowling will pull some bullshit to have this make sense, but I don’t care, this subplot annoyed me and it really doesn’t matter if it’s part of some master plan to make me un-not enjoy scenes and how they play out)
Here I am, Talking About Leta, but This Will Mostly be About Dumbledore Because That is This Movie’s Priorities
We arrive at Hogwarts, and even get the John Williams score because the movie is screaming at you to remember when these movies were watchable. They’re here to talk to Dumbledore about Grindelwald, and how they’re ‘more than brothers’ because the internet got mad over our no homo.Leta is here and we get an elongated flashback to her time at Hogwarts.
She was apparently an outcast over something her brother did, and we see how close she was to Newt. Leta faces a Boggart, and her biggest fear is foreshadowing, and Newt’s is a desk. This is also where that infamous moment with McGonagall teaching before she is supposed to comes from, but I don’t care about that. In present day, Leta and Dumbledore have a conversation about losing people, and it’s pretty meh but it’s needed for foreshadowing purposes, and reminds me that Zoe Kravitz and Jude Law are the only things making this movie bearable.
This will be the last time we see Dumbledore before the final scene, so we have that Mirror of Erised moment with him and Grindelwald we saw in the trailer. But it’s extended where we see them have blood sex, but only cutting the palm of their hands and clasping them together like those weird blood bonding things people used to do before they realised how incredibly unsafe that was. We see the orb Grindelwald worked so hard to get in the opening, and that’s another scene down.
Intriguing. If anything in this movie intrigued. Let’s move shit forward!
Newt Moves the Plot Along, Thankfully
I’m probably making this movie sound breezy and well-paced, and not a slog to sit through. There’s way too many lingering shots or scenes, and they really desperately try to capture the whimsy of the Harry Potter movies, but this time in Paris, while also trying to make the story more adult and it just doesn’t work. The pacing is a mess, but let’s hop back to Newt and Kowalski.
Newt uses some incredibly convenient magical powder that allows the users to retrace the steps of an individual from hours beforehand. Why this has never been used in any of the other movies before this mystifies me, but alas here we are. He tracks the footsteps to Yusuf (side-note: this is around the time Queenie hears them and gets kidnapped), and they are cornered by him and locked up with Tina. In a confusing moment where I’m not sure if Newt did this on purpose or not (he may have), Yusuf collapses with a parasite in his eye. The trio just walk out and take him back to the safehouse Dumbledore set up.
This house is owned by…Nicolas Flamel! Remember him? From the first Harry Potter book, he was mentioned? Huh? Huh? Good times. His appearance here is utterly pointless. Knowing Credence is a Lestrange, they decide to break into the French Ministry’s archives to find out information on them to find him. Newt and Tina go and leave Kowalski to look after Yusuf. Before going, Newt and Tina note the Unbreakable Vow mark on his arm.
Whilst going to the Ministry, Tina and Newt have an irritating exchange explaining the paper faux pas and that Newt actually isn’t engaged, his brother is. That bit of pointlessness put behind us, we head into the Ministry and Newt’s antics, including gleefully watching his dead-on bro be zapped, catches Leta’s attention. She follows them into the archives, where they confirm that Credence is a Lestrange and that there’s info at their family tomb. This has them confronted by the matron of the archives and her weird cat monster things. This leads to one of the few decent action scenes where Newt, Tina and Leta escape.
Also, cause I haven’t mentioned the fantastic beasts in Fantastic Beasts, they kind of take a backseat in this story. The Niffler from the first movie has an important plot function later, but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. it’s blatant false advertising otherwise. At least the first movie was about the creatures, kind of!
Anyway, after escaping the Ministry, our team have discovered that Grindelwald has veiled all of Paris to signal them to come to the Lestrange tomb. All our cast assemble to it-Yusuf wakes up, threatens Kowalski to let him pass, and he follows him. Queenie goes there too. Grindelwald invites Credence and Nagini there personally. And Flamel realises something…somehow with magic, and rushes off after the rest of the cast.
Newt, Tina, Leta, Yusuf and Kowalski all meet at the tomb, and we go from this movie being boring to fucking nonsensical.
Third Act Problems #1: Leta’s Origin
Arriving at the mausoleum, we get one of our first of, like, 90 twists; Yusuf is Leta’s brother! (side-note: not to do one of those things where everyone calls Rowling out on her faux-progressivism, but am I the only one who found it weird that the only two prominent black characters in the movie just happened to be related?). Here we get a long, long, loooooooooong flashback and infodump, I am not even kidding, so to start off, take the floor Yusuf:
Yusuf’s mother was the object of the lust of Corvus Lestrange. Lestrange took her by force by putting her under the Imperius Curse, and had her as his wife until she died giving birth to Leta. I’m just gonna have to look over the issues of consent here, at least here the person breaking said consent is meant to be evil, but keep in mind they handled this kind of shit better in the book series meant for children and not in the movies clearly aimed at an older audience.
Yusuf’s father is, understandably, quite pissed about this whole affair, and creates an Unbreakable Vow with his son. Because Corvus stole the person Yusuf’s father loved the most, Yusuf in turn has to kill what he loved the most. Except this plan ran into a stumbling block because Corvus is truly a sack of arses and doesn’t love anyone, not even his daughter. Until his new wife gives birth to a son. Corvus loves his son with all his heart, and don’t question how this came to be because it’s just convenient for the narrative. Yusuf and his father’s homicidal attempts towards the infant forced Papa Lestrange to send him away. Yusuf had assumed the child just died, so his Unbreakable Vow ended or something. But it…started again once he realised Credence was alive. Which is how magic works.
Except he’s wrong. Yep, that’s right, Credence cannot be Corvus Lestrange’s son, because his son died and it’s all Leta’s fault. Yup, this somehow has not come up before, but young Leta has a secret. You see:
Leta was sent with the baby Corvus and the half-elf housemaid to go to America via ship to put him up for adoption. But baby Corvus is kind of an annoying little shit and won’t stop crying. This sends Leta right up the bend, and she just waltzes into someone else’s fucking cabin. Slips the crying baby down for a not-crying baby, wearing the same fucking outfit Corvus is. And just strolls out with nobody seeing her. At this very moment, the ship starts to sink. The not-Corvus baby (Credence), half-elf and Leta are on one lifeboat, and the actual-Corvus baby and the woman who tended to the other baby end up on one that capsizes. The baby sinks to his death.
And there we have it. This entire fucking time, the entire cast involve have been following a dead lead, and not only did Leta know, but this ingeniously plotted twist involved her managing to find a baby that looked exactly like Corvus, a boat sinking and him drowning to work. This is fucking weak.
But we’re not done yet! *sob* For you see:
Third Act Problems #2: Grindelwald has a Great Fucking Speech, Y’all!
Oh Jesus Christ, let this be over soon…
The mausoleum has secret passageway because of course it does. The gang walk down it to find Grindelwald and other wizards beginning to apparate into the location. Kowalski is finally reunited with Queenie, and he is desperate for them to leave. She rebuffs his urgency, and ask to just…hear out the muggle (or, the phrase he uses later, “Cantspell”, this woman wrote one of the most successful book series of her generation…) mass murderer. She stays, as does everyone else. There’s a few cuts to a ginger girl, she’s important. And not because she’s secretly Ron Weasley’s great grand aunt or some shit. Well, as far as we know right now.
And Grindelwald talks, and it’s just some generic villain shit. Why should wizards have to hide, why are they telling us not to let non-magical folks know, blah, blah. But then we get to the moment that really made my piss come to a boil. He uses some….mist projection thing to conjure up images from World War 2, the Holocaust, the Atomic Bomb, etc. so he can prove his point about why humans are shit and need a bit of minding. That’s right, Grindelwald is using the Nazis…to sell the superiority of his own people. Like no, no Joanne. Jesus Christ, don’t put real life horrific events into your magical underworld drama series! It just brings up way too many questions!
(also Kowalski’s pained reaction to seeing another war coming made me realise they really dropped the ball on characterisation because I completely forgot he’s meant to be a WWI vet)
The Aurors break in, and Grindelwald points out that they won’t even let him speak (this…touches on political stuff I’m not going into, but I just wanted to highlight how bad the implications of this scene are). The ginger girl I mentioned earlier is Imperius’d to attack one of them, and he responds by killing her instead of, like, doing anything less which would ruined the fucking point that was being made there. Like seriously, you could have stunned her! Fucking hell, idiot plot is an understatement! Anyway, Grindy’s proven he’s being mad persecuted because he’s being pursued by idiots and wizards should revolt. He conjures up this blue flame, anyone Team Clearly Evil can pass through it safely. Team Not Really That Much Evil Now That You Mention It get burned immediately when the flames touch them.
Oh, right, when Newt goes over to that girl’s body, the Niffler pops out and crawls around Grindelwald as he examines her. It shoots back pretty quickly, but this is very obviously a plot point so I need to mention it.
Queenie, wanting to marry Kowalski, thinks the guy who wants nothing but the worst for non-magic people is the best bet towards marrying a non-magic person. Said person refuses to go and, because she wants to marry him, she betrays him and goes to the evil guy who would likely try to kill him for trying to breed with a wizard. This movie is nearly fucking over. Credence walks towards Grindelwald after he says he has answers, Nagini refuses to join. Credence ignores her and goes into the fire.
The fire then goes out of control and begins to attack everyone left, including Newt and his brother. We see Leta who, having previously said she’s a monster because of letting terrible writing kill her half-brother, walks towards the flames. Honestly, I was so done here, it could have been her betraying them and not a ploy and it would have exhibited the same reaction from me. it was a ploy, naturally, and she distracts Grindelwald long enough to let the others escape, dying in the process. Zoe Kravitz was one of the only tolerable things about this trainwreck, and now her character is dead. Amazing.
Nicolas Flamel arrives to tell those who escaped that the blue flames will light up and kill the entirety of Paris. Because I guess that’s how much aul Grindy cares for non-magical folks and stopping them from killing themselves. He’ll kill them first! The remaining wizards team up and fight the flames back, saving the day. Newt then breaks down into his brother’s arms and said he’s chosen a side. I hope you remembered that one line he said two hours prior, because this is the entirety of the arc our protagonist is given. Which makes it even better as Newt barely affects the plot at all.
We’re Not Done Yet, Boyo! An Epilogue
The survivors of Grindelwald’s attack go to Hogwarts to meet Dumbledore. He talks to Newt privately and we find out what the Niffler took earlier: Grindelwald’s pendant. Turns out it’s some form of blood pact, and it’s what’s stopping Dumbledore from attacking his old partner. That’s right, it’s not his complicated feelings of love and rejection or even the guilt of his sister’s death that is preventing Dumbledore attacking Grindelwald. It’s some fucking hex they cast when they were younger doing it. Eat shit. Dumby says he may figure out some way to break it, and that’s where we leave our heroes.
Over to our villains, Grindelwald and Queenie have a heart-to-heart about how to approach young Credence. Best buds these guys are now, I guess. Grindelwald talks to Credence, and even helps him to channel his immense power. The younger man uses his wand to take off part of a cliffside. They talk about the elephant in the room being where exactly did Credence come from, and here we go…
Before I go into this part, as you can tell from this summary I’m skimming over a lot of detail. One thing in particular is an anecdote Dumbledore told Newt when he was recruiting him to go to Paris. It’s about phoenixes, and how his family have a close bond to the animals. This is the first time this has ever been brought up in the series, despite Dumbledore owning a phoenix, but whatever. We see Credence throughout the film play with a featherless chick. Said chick is sitting on the bannister in this house they are in.
Grindelwald tells Credence the same anecdote about Dumbledores and phoenixes. The chick then bursts into flames, revealing a mighty phoenix. Grindelwald then approaches Credence and refers to him by his real name: Aurelius Dumbledore.
THE. FUCKING. END.
So. Yeah. Probably not gonna watch Fantastic Beasts 3, all things considered.